Letter from the Executive Director: Balancing Future Workforce Strategies and Immediate Workforce Solutions

Sep 30, 2021

Key business leaders are focused on the long game even while looking for immediate help on workforce shortages.

The Economic Alliance hosted a workforce roundtable discussion last month of several area businesses and most of the top directors from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ leadership team, including the governor herself. The governor’s office was here to help, basically saying ‘tell us what you need, and we’ll do our best to get it to you.’

On the immediate front, companies wanted a better understanding of Workforce Development programs, including how to connect to the unemployed. Company leaders also understood the intersection of human services to workforce and how the State might be able to help on that front. Workforce participation in Iowa is way down from pre-pandemic because of child-care issues, health concerns and transportation challenges, among other things. Human service issues are preventing many otherwise talented people from returning to work, and there are potential solutions to bring quick relief to the workforce situation.

Some of the discussions happened between company leaders and state officials. On other issues, the most insightful dialogue was among business leaders themselves as they compared notes on wage rates, training strategies and the impact of workplace culture on retention.

Given the acute crisis that workforce shortages are right now, one could have expected the entire discussion to be focused on immediate solutions. But that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, more the half of the 90-minute meeting focused on future workforce pipeline. Cedar Rapids and Benton Community school officials were both present and helped explain existing programs as well as the potential for new connections between students and industry. Discussions also turned to externship programs in which teachers serve as interns in manufacturing settings during summer break. The first-hand experience helps make them better ambassadors of those jobs to students who might excel on that type of a career path.

Kirkwood Community College offers an array of workforce help and was critical to the roundtable discussion. Business leaders were not aware of several existing programs, and the discussion revealed opportunities for immediate connections and support. Kirkwood also plays a big role in the future workforce pipeline through internship and apprenticeship programs that some – but not all – companies knew about. The Talent Hub and the workforce attraction campaigns of the Economic Alliance and the Iowa City Area Development Group also could be helpful, particularly to those companies seeking more professional-level employees.

We commend the governor’s office for convening the meeting, and for its follow up workforce assessments since then. And we especially appreciate the involvement of our member businesses, who on short notice brought their experiences and innovative thinking to a meeting that may well have important and meaningful outcomes. Thanks much to the participants from New Leader Manufacturing, Raining Rose, General Mills, Nordstrom, Frontier Coop, TrueNorth Companies, Right At Home, South Slope Communications and ImOn Communications.


Doug Neumann, Executive Director

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